NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion, on a three-game losing skid, plays host to the Ottawa 67’s at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Ontario Hockey League club’s annual Pink in the Rink game supporting the Canadian Cancer Society and breast cancer awareness.
The Battalion lost 7-3 Monday to the visiting Peterborough Petes after a 3-1 setback last Thursday night against the host Barrie Colts and a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at Memorial Gardens on Sept. 29.
“We have to keep the puck out of the net,” coach Stan Butler, whose Troops have a won-lost-extended record of 3-2-1 for seven points, third in the Central Division, said Wednesday. “I think any time you give up seven goals you’re not going to have much of a chance to win.”
The Battalion has 23 skaters and two goaltenders on the roster after left winger Jacob Ball was put on waivers Tuesday.
“Ball has gone home,” Butler said of the Peterborough resident. “We’ve released him from the team and we’re just waiting to see whether he clears through the league process, which takes 48 hours, and then at that time either he’ll get claimed or he’ll be reassigned somewhere.”
Butler suggested that the number of players with the club is too high.
“We’re still trying to sort our team out. We’ve still got too many players here.”
The Battalion, which missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002 and for only the third time in the franchise’s first 19 seasons, has demonstrated patience in player evaluation.
“We’re just trying to get it right,” said Butler. “I think we’re trying to make decisions based on fact instead of emotion, and we just want to make sure that we make the right decisions with players. As we get to that point where we think we can make a good decision one way or the other, we’ll make them.”
One factor in Ball’s release was the return of overager Brett McKenzie last Wednesday from a professional tryout with the Utica Comets, the American Hockey League affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, who selected him in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
McKenzie, who played centre in his first four seasons after being the Troops’ first-round pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, was shifted to left wing on his return. The team’s leading scoring last season with 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points in as many games, he earned his first point this season with an assist against Peterborough.
“Obviously, Brett’s a big part of our team and we need him to play well,” said Butler. “I thought his first game in Barrie was outstanding, and I thought his second game against Peterborough wasn’t.
“This is a big year for Brett. I want to see him get a contract. I think he’s a great kid, and hopefully he can have a lot of good games this year that’ll allow him to get that contract.”
Against Ottawa, the Battalion will be without centre Kyle Potts, who’s been suspended for four games after receiving a match penalty for slashing Peterborough’s Austin Osmanski late in the third period.
The 67’s are 4-3-1 for nine points, tied with the Petes for second place in the East Division. Left winger Tye Felhaber paces the offence with four goals and four assists for eight points in as many games, while centre Austen Keating has a team-high five goals in eight games.
The Pink in the Rink game, presented by CAA North & East Ontario, is to feature an auction of the sweaters the Troops wear as well as a themed sweater autographed by the team. Chuck-a-puck prizes include a team-autographed stick and a puck autographed by defenceman Cam Dineen.
A limited number of pink T-shirts remain available for purchase, and SugarDaddy Cupcakes & Catering will offer gourmet cupcakes.
The Battalion completes its schedule for the week by visiting Barrie at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and hosting the Hamilton Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Sunday.